Salt is the main dietary source of sodium, a nutrient that helps maintain body fluid balance, transmit nerve impulses and control muscle movement. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a daily sodium intake of no more than 2,300 milligrams, which is equal to 1 teaspoon of salt. However, most Americans consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily. While adding a pinch of salt to your food instantly makes it more palatable and satisfying, a high sodium intake increases blood pressure and can cause serious health problems.
High Blood Pressure
Your kidneys are the filtering organs that maintain sodium balance in the body. If you regularly consume high amounts of salt, your kidneys are unable to excrete the extra sodium, causing it to accumulate in your blood. High sodium levels cause water retention and increase the volume of blood circulating in the body. As the heart works harder to pump the larger volume of blood throughout the body, it increases the pressure at which blood travels through the vessels and causes high blood pressure, or hypertension.
Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke
High salt intake increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, reports a 2009 article published in the "British Medical Journal." The constant high pressure on the arteries due to hypertension causes them to harden and narrow. Further damage to the arteries can decrease or block blood supply to the heart and brain, causing a heart attack or stroke. While decreasing your salt intake lowers blood pressure, a 2011 study in the “Annual Review of Public Health” confirms that sodium reduction also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Salty foods damage the lining of the stomach and may increase your risk of stomach cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. In addition to increasing risk of colon and rectal cancers, excess salt intake may also encourage growth of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers and increased risk of gastric cancer. Cutting back on processed foods high in sodium may help lower the risk of these cancers.
Poor Bone Health
High levels of sodium increase the amount of calcium excreted in urine. Calcium from bones leaches into blood to maintain circulating calcium levels, thereby decreasing bone density. Over time, a high sodium intake may lead to osteoporosis, which may increase risk of bone fractures. A low-sodium diet may prevent loss of calcium from bones and may also help maintain bone health, according to Harvard School of Public Health.
Ways to Reduce Sodium Intake
You can cut back on sodium intake when shopping, cooking and eating out or at home. Read nutrition labels and only purchase foods that are low-sodium or sodium-free. Limit intake of fast foods, ready-to-eat meals and processed foods such as pasta, fries, pizza, luncheon meats, bacon, canned soups and cheese. When cooking at home, use spices and herbs instead of salt to add flavor to your dish.
- MayoClinic.com: How to Tame Your Salt Habit Now
- Harvard School of Public Health: Lower Salt and Sodium: A Key to Good Health
- Blood Pressure Association: Salt and Blood Pressure
- British Medical Journal: Salt Intake, Stroke and Cardiovascular Disease: Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies.
- Annual Review of Public Health: Sodium Intake and Cardiovascular Disease
- American Institute for Clinical Research: Recommendations for Cancer Prevention
- Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Prospective Cohort Study Evaluating the Relationship Between Salted Food Intake and Gastrointestinal Tract Cancer Mortality in Japan
- University of California Berkeley: Salt Dangers – Beyond Hypertension
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
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